“Already Bought My First Slave” at Gettysburg

Gettysburg, Confederate flagI was a bit surprised when a couple of students on my recent Civil War trip attempted to purchase Confederate flags at one of the gift shops. Without giving it much thought I intercepted the students at the checkout counter and gently reminded them to think about the history that we had already examined as well as the talk on the history of the Confederate flag that I presented to the entire school. These students were not mean-spirited and perhaps it was just a case of boys being boys, but I did want them to do a little reflection before making the purchase.

Neither student made the purchase, but if it had been made I would have insisted that the flags be kept out of sight. I stand by this decision. I’ve said before that I wish gift shops were a bit more selective about the kinds of souvenirs they sell. It trivializes the history and the very ground, where so many Americans gave their lives. Continue reading ““Already Bought My First Slave” at Gettysburg”

Two Talks, Two Subjects

For those of you in the Greater Boston area I will be giving two talks next week. The first will be held on Wednesday evening at the Medford Historical Society & Museum, where I will be discussing the myth of the Black Confederate soldier. Some of you will be happy to hear that I decided to resurrect my book on the subject. I won’t go into the reasons why, but I have been working steadily on it and I can say with confidence that the manuscript will be completed by the end of the year, if not before. I’ve also been in communication with three publishers, who have expressed interest in the project.

On Thursday I travel to Brunswick, Maine to speak at the Joshua L. Chamberlain Civil War Roundtable. My talk there will focus on Union soldiers and their response to fighting alongside African Americans at the Crater. The talk is based on a forthcoming essay on the subject, which will be published in Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign later this year. This collection of essays is edited by Gary Gallagher and Caroline Janney.

I am thrilled to be speaking at one of the more active roundtables in New England. I am also looking forward to exploring Chamberlain’s old stomping grounds, including Bowdoin College and his home, which is now a museum.

I do hope some of you can make it. If so, please introduce yourself. It’s always a thrill for me to meet readers.

[Image: Don Troiani, Historical Arts Prints]

Report From the Field: Student Reflections

Over the past few days I’ve been going over student reflections from last week’s Civil War battlefields trip. There is simply no substitute for taking students to historic sites. The learning that can be accomplished and the connections to the past that can be forged at such places trumps all of the bells and whistles found in the seemingly endless supply of new gadgets and programs. Don’t get me wrong, I embrace technology in the classroom, but trips like this help me to put it all in perspective.

Peter Carmichael with my students at the Rose Woods in Gettysburg
Peter Carmichael with my students at Rose Woods in Gettysburg

Here are just two brief reflections. Continue reading “Report From the Field: Student Reflections”

Did the Civil War End in 1865?

It’s a question that has come to frame Civil War era studies more and more over the past few decades. I pose the question to my students to help them think about both continuity and change throughout the decade and beyond. The question certainly has pedagogical value.

Now I pose the question to all of you.

What are the interpretive benefits and/or pitfalls to understanding the war as ending in the spring of 1865 as opposed to a longer war that may have taken a different form?

I have some thoughts about this, which I will share in due time.

Report From the Field: Interpreting Civil War Battlefields

Last night I returned from five days of battlefield stomping with thirteen wonderful students. I was hoping to write a few more blog posts, but I simply didn’t have enough time between the driving, walking and just trying to enjoy those few moments of downtime. All in all the trip reminded me of why I love working with high school students and teaching Civil War history. It goes without saying that there is no better way to convey the richness of this history than by doing it on site.

Thanks to Garry Adelman of the Civil War Trust and Peter Carmichael of Gettysburg College’s Civil War Institute for spending time with my students. I didn’t anticipate this, but watching these two fine historians and battlefield interpreters reminded me of the ways that we approach these sites. This was something that I discussed with the group during one of our final reflections. Continue reading “Report From the Field: Interpreting Civil War Battlefields”